Another diocese has revised their teachers’ contract to be more explicit about the type of personal behavior which can be used as a reason for terminating employment.
The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, which last year witnessed one of the largest protests against the firing of a Catholic school teacher because she was involved in a committed lesbian relationship, has added new phrases to their contracts which tell teachers they must follow church teaching “both within and outside their employment duties.”
The Columbus Dispatch reported that “Conduct that could result in firing includes having sex without being married and pursuing or publicly supporting in vitro fertilization.” Although same-gender marriage is not mentioned in the news story, when the dioceses of Cincinnati, Honolulu, Cleveland, and Oakland instituted new contracts, being part of a legally married lesbian or gay couple, or supporting marriage equality were listed as reasons for dismissal.
In April 2013, Carla Hale , a Methodist, was fired from her 19-year position as a physical education teacher at a Catholic high school when an obituary for her mother listed the name of her lesbian partner. Her dismissal prompted an enormous amount of student, alumni, and parent protest against the decision.
As in the previous cases where new restrictive clauses have been added to diocesan employment contracts, objections from the laity are strong. The Dispatch reports:
“Such morality clauses ‘constitute an immoral act’ because they exclude people — the noncelibate, gays, those who divorce and remarry without church approval — from diocesan jobs, said Tom Lupia, co-director of the Columbus chapter of Call to Action, a group of Catholics who seek to change some aspects of the church.
“ ‘Jesus taught that we should reflect God’s inclusive love for us by loving one another inclusively,’ he said in an email. ‘There is to be no exclusion. We are even to love our enemies.’ “
And the newspaper reports that the new contract language has already claimed one casualty:
“One teacher told The Dispatch that she resigned from her job because she disagrees with the morality clause. She asked that her name not be published because she is still being paid her 2013-14 salary and fears retaliation.
“She and her husband were Catholic but became Episcopalian over the past year because of concerns about the church, she said. ‘Before, the understanding was that when you were in your classroom, you would always uphold Catholic values and principles, which I have no problem with,’ she said. ‘The new contract seemed a little more intrusive into personal life and personal beliefs.
“ ‘I was very bothered by the Carla Hale firing, and I’ve really been searching my conscience ever since then. And I really feel in a lot of ways this isn’t treating people with love and kindness, which is what I essentially believe in.’ ”
Such a comment reveals that the pastoral implications of these new policies can be very harmful. In addition to the injustice being done to teachers, these new policies are harming others in the church. If church leaders don’t find another way to handle employment contracts, the consequences for all in the church can be very dire.
Rita Schwartz, the president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, opines that doctrinal or pastoral issues don’t even seem to be of concern to church leaders. The Dispatch quotes her:
“It’s not being done for religious purposes — it’s being done because they were sued and don’t want to lose any more cases. And that’s not as it should be. That should not be the motivation.”
How do you think that church leaders should handle employment contracts? How do you think that Catholics can respond effectively to such restrictive actions? Add you thoughts to the “Comments” section of this post.
One thing you can do is write to the bishop of Columbus to express your disagreement with the new policies:Bishop Frederick Campbell Diocese of Columbus 197 East Gay Street Columbus, Ohio 43215 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
And, New Ways Ministry continues to suggest that Catholics organize in the parishes and schools to establish non-discrimination employment policies.
For a complete list of firings and contract restrictions, click here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry